I was wondering whether or not the phrase/sentence/claim/statement: "The United States Federal Government ought to alter the Criminal Justice System" be hypothetically feasible?

To clarify, I wanted to know if the USFG even has a jurisdiction over the criminal justice system? Because the judicial system is part of the three branches I would assume so right?

If not please provide citations that backs up how the USFG doesn't necessarily have jurisdiction over the criminal justice system

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    Can you be more specific about which aspect of the criminal justice system you are thinking about? For example, the FBI is a part of the criminal justice system and managed by the federal government. Police and sheriff departments have a very similar job, but the federal government have very limited authority over them because they are managed by the states, counties and cities. And that's just law enforcement. There are also the courts and the correctional facilities which are also parts of the criminal justice system. – Philipp Feb 12 '18 at 0:47
  • @Philipp I was thinking more about the courts and stuff – John Rawls Feb 12 '18 at 5:30
  • Isn't there the rule of law? The legislative can surely change it, but as long as it is present you have to follow it and the executive cannot just decide on a case by case basis. I cannot imagine how else one could have a rule of law? – Trilarion Feb 12 '18 at 8:35
  • @JohnRawls Can you edit your question to say what exactly you want to know about "courts and stuff"? Possible questions would be, for example "could the federal government abolish trial by jury?" or "could the federal government force prosecutors to be more/less impartial?" – Philipp Feb 12 '18 at 9:37
  • @Philipp - typically, discussions about criminal justice reforms in USA are not related to such fundamental things as trial by jury; and more about more pinpoint - but varied - things like sentencing guidelines (this is where "courts" part of the "stuff" usually resides in that topic), incarceration vs. rehabilitation, post-incarceration hiring, drug laws, and sometimes private vs public prisons. – user4012 Feb 12 '18 at 15:37

The judicial system is declared by the United States constitution, but it isn't defined by it. The judicial system is defined by laws passed over time. Those laws establish the district and circuit (appeals) courts. Only the Supreme Court is actually mentioned by name in Article III of the US constitution:

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.

The "inferior Courts" are ordained and established by Congress. There are various limitations provided in Article III and the Bill of Rights, but subject to those, the inferior courts are Congress' to define.

The "Criminal Justice System" is more than just the judicial branch. It also includes law enforcement like the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives), and Homeland Security. The Department of Justice is also part of the criminal justice system. Defense attorneys and the criminal code are also part of the criminal justice system.

The constitution mandates defense attorneys, but it doesn't mandate how they get paid nor how much. Law enforcement and prosecution are pretty much entirely a creation of Congress.

  • Sept. 24, 1789: Congress establishes a Supreme Court, 13 district courts, three ad hoc circuit courts, and the position of Attorney General.

Subject to constitutional restrictions, Congress can change, reform, or even alter those if it wants. It can't abolish the Supreme Court, but it could certainly change things. For example, the Supreme Court used to only have five members but now has nine.

Beyond all that, even the constitutional requirements are subject to amendment by Congress. That would still require ratification by three quarters of the states but is otherwise part of the federal government.

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  • Could the Congress change the Federal Courts from the adversarial system to the inquisitorial system? – RonJohn Apr 7 '18 at 18:23

The discussions of criminal justice reforms in USA usually cover a wide variety of topics: sentencing guidelines, rehabilitation focus, post-release treatment/reintegration, policing reforms, privatization of incarceration and several more. Thus, the general answer is "it depends".

However, as the comment clarified that this was specific to judiciary, the most likely thing being referred to here are Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

As such, the answer is two-fold:

  • Federal sentencing guidelines are congressional-passed law, and as such can be altered by federal government (by amending/repealing/new law)

  • State sentencing guidelines are state-passed law and thus NOT the province of federal guidelines as the law stands. To the best of my understanding, state judges are not subject to federal guidelines (which explicitly only apply to federal judges), and therefore the state level sentencing cannot be altered by federal government as easily.

    Having said that, under Supremacy Clause in Article VI of Constitution, state laws cannot violate the guidelines in Federal law, so the federal government CAN pass new laws that explicitly influence State sentencing, even if it does not do so via FSG now.

As @hszmv noted, obviously, no law passed can violate the Constitution (as judged by court rulings on constitutionality of such law, up to an including SCOTUS).

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  • Also under the 6th Amendment prevents "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" under any law, federal or state or local. Thus, Death Penalty for unpaid parking tickets is not going to happen at any level of government in the US. – hszmv Feb 12 '18 at 16:20
  • @hszmv - I assumed that the question pertains to actual practical discussions in contemporary US politics. They generally do NOT contain such extreme ideas, so I'm not sure it's worth covering edge cases in an answer. – user4012 Feb 12 '18 at 16:22
  • More to the point that declaring a federal punishment cruel and unusual will affect states with similar punishments. – hszmv Feb 12 '18 at 16:29
  • @hszmv - can you actually pass a law that declares something "cruel and unusual"? – user4012 Feb 12 '18 at 16:44
  • Not in that way, in so far as I'm aware. What typically happens is that the punishment is determined to be Cruel and Unusual by judicial review of the law at question. If a federal crime recommends a punishment and a judge says that it is Cruel and Unusual, than it is struck as a punishment as unconstitutional. Any law derived from this by states will also be struck down as well, despite not being challenged. – hszmv Feb 12 '18 at 17:06

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